From Austin, TX to Charlotte, NC to Washington, DC to Vienna to Kosovo.
I’m a bit behind on where I wanted to be with keeping up my blog, and I’ll be attempting to post a few in the next few days with other important events I want to document (orientation, meeting my host family, going to prom with my host sister tomorrow night, etc.).
But, in order to keep things in chronological order so I can look back at my complete service, this is just a walkthrough of leaving my house on May 30th to arriving in Kosovo on June 2nd. Side note: the flight to Kosovo was lowkey a big deal for me since I hadn’t flown since I was 5, and this was my first time leaving the country.
The past week has been an absolute whirlwind. To think only 8 days ago I was having a breakdown when I was about to leave my house in Texas because my mom commented that my new hiking backpack may not be okay for carryon dimensions based on how stuffed full it was. After some Googling, it turned out that she was right. Don’t worry, though, her and my dad are miracle workers and took stuff out of my backpack and somehow shoved all the miscellaneous items into my already stuffed suitcases while I was frantically wiping away stress tears.
After my complete breakdown and a quiet car ride spent attempting to compose myself before this journey (honestly, I had been very calm and collected during the whole ‘getting ready to leave’ process and the last minute stress was the straw that broke the emotional camel’s back), my parents and I made it to the Austin airport. Prior to all of the flying I’ve done within the past few days, I had an extremely minimal gauge of airport size (my references were the airport in Fargo, North Dakota and the one in San Antonio, Texas), but even I knew the Austin airport was small (and after being in the Dulles International airport in DC I can confirm that it is very small).
For Peace Corps service you’re allowed to bring 2 checked bags with certain dimension specifications, no more than 50 pounds each, a carryon (I brought my new hiking backpack), and a personal item (I brought a tote stuffed full with books and pens and my smaller purse). When I checked my 2 bags at the airport, one of them was 49.5 pounds and my parents and I just laughed. Pure luck.
After checking my bags, I sat with my mom and dad in the airport for about 20 minutes or so, engaging in small talk as if I weren’t about to leave for 27 months and that our lives wouldn’t be changing completely. Once I decided it was finally time to go through TSA (for my first time ever), I hugged my biggest support system goodbye and started on my journey.
I boarded my first place quickly, enjoyed my window seat, and was relieved when I discovered I didn’t have any plane anxiety or altitude sickness I hadn’t known about before. I had a quick layover in Charlotte, North Carolina, boarded my second plane, and was in DC in a little over an hour after that. I didn’t let myself feel relieved until I saw all of my luggage in baggage claim, and when I saw it all, I just smiled; I had gotten to DC safely, with all of my luggage, and on time.
I ordered a Lyft to the hotel, and after an awkward encounter with the driver (I immediately hopped in the front seat so we could chat, he asked why I was in the front seat and told me the back was better. I then proceeded to awkwardly get out of the front seat and go to the back seat), arrived at the hotel for staging. I was able to meet some volunteers the first night that flew in early as well, and got a very decent night’s sleep before registration and staging the next day.
Staging was overwhelming at first. My cohort has 40 people. 40 individuals from different walks of life. Though there are so many things differing between us, it was comforting to know that despite those differences we were all unified by our decision to dedicate 27 months of our lives to serve in the Peace Corps in Kosovo.
We had sessions for 4 1/2 hours on Wednesday (5/31) and 2 1/2 more the next morning before departing for the Dulles International Airport and leaving for Kosovo, with a short layover in Vienna. The sessions included infinite icebreakers, a crash intro course in everything Peace Corps, relevant information about Kosovo and that area of the world, and various other tidbits.
Despite some serious baggage drama at the front desk with the airport staff in DC, our cohort slowly got through TSA, trickled into our gate, and boarded the plane for Vienna, a 9-hour flight.
This flight was now my 3rd flight that I had been on (that I remember; I don’t really count my flying at 5 years old), and it was also the longest flight that I had been on (that does include flying at 5 years old). Lucky for me, I was in the very middle seat of the plane (that was typed with heavy sarcasm). But, like I had been doing with everything thus far (and am continuing to do), I just accepted it and went with the flow. The long flight had some good and some bad. For example, bad: sitting in the middle seat, good: complimentary wine and dinner. Bad: persistently screaming baby, good: a nice selection of in-flight movies. Bad: not being able to sleep at all, good: complimentary coffee in the morning.
Once we arrived in Vienna, I was now 7 time zones ahead of my home in Texas, I hadn’t slept in almost 24 hours and I was feeling was great.
After freshening up and changing into ‘business casual’ in the airport bathroom, my cohort was ready to depart to Kosovo. We all boarded for the short flight (a good number of us checking our carry-ons because they were way too big to fit in the small cargo holds above the seats), and I was able to listen to some music and watch an episode of Dear White People before we were in Kosovo, our new home for the next 27 months.
By the grace of God Herself, everyone received all of their luggage (in spite of the crazy drama with the 2nd checked bag when trying to leave DC), and it felt like further confirmation that yes, we were meant to be here.
The PC Kosovo staff was all waiting for us; it was incredibly sweet and so very comforting. I immediately felt some new version of ‘home’ while looking out over the gorgeous mountains across the road from the airport in Pristina, and I sincerely hope that feeling continues throughout my service.